Have you ever embarrassed your child in public? When did your parent embarrass you as a child? How did it affect you?
My parents are loving people. Growing up they were strict, but loving. Spanking was used to discipline in our house. The threat of a possible spanking typically kept me in line, so thankfully, I cannot remember my parents embarrassing me in a your-going-to-get-a-spanking kind of way in public. Instead, they would let me know a spanking was coming in more private settings (away from others, in the car or house). It was a warning and I had a choice to make—straighten up or get spanked. My decision was easy to make (I would do just about anything to avoid being spanked). I noticed other parents weren’t as considerate and would embarrass their children in front of others. While I hated getting spanked, I was grateful my parents were different. I realized my parents could embarrass me in a different way as I grew older—when they’d brag about me in front of others. I hated it because 1) as a teen I was very self-conscious (aren’t we all?) and I was mortified when attention was put on me, 2) I didn’t feel like the things my parents were sharing were worth bragging about, and 3) I felt utterly unable to stop my parents from what they were doing in fear of embarrassing them (I knew how much I didn’t like it, and assumed they wouldn’t like it either). I definitely didn’t just stand there and take what was happening in these situations. I would attempt to stop my parents mid-sentence. “Mom, please.” “Mom, really. Please stop.” I’d even try the eye roll, and try to make eye contact with my parents friend in an attempt to communicate I’m so sorry, but it never seemed to work.
Now that I have my own children, I’ve been faced with the same challenges my parent went through. We don’t spank in our house, so my boys have never had to fear that as a punishment, however, it makes motivating them to behave that much more challenging. Taking away privileges or a stern talking to works sometimes, but sometimes it doesn’t. I feel very challenged in these moments. There is a part of me that would like to vent my frustration at their resistance to adhere to what I’m asking them to do, and I have to catch myself sometimes from not doing this in public (it’s not easy) when they’re acting out around others. A “get in the car NOW” seems to do the trick, they know I’m unhappy with their behavior and it will be better for them to get into the car than not. Still, it’s a challenge.
My boys were in a concert at school. They would be singing a few songs with their classmates. My youngest was eager to participate. My oldest was mortified. “I’m not going,” he said, “and you can’t make me.” At first, my husband and I responded, “Oh yes we can. Don’t you tell us what you are or are not going to do.” That just seemed to make my son dig his heels in deeper. “Nope, I’m not going to do it.” My husband tried reasoning with him. “You’re part of your class…a team. You’re going to let your classmates down if you don’t participate, and that’s going to be embarrassing.” My son simply replied, “No it won’t. Half of them aren’t here anyway, no one is going to notice.” He was right, it was a volunteer concert (not mandatory) so many of his classmates weren’t there. Ugh. The show was going to start soon, and we were nearing the end of our attempts to prompt our son to participate. My husband and I felt strongly he couldn’t “opt-out” of participating, because often in life you can’t do that–you’ll lose a job, or a friend, or an opportunity. My mind was spinning, what else could we do? And then it occurred to me. “You are going to go up and sing with your class. We are only asking you to go up there to try your best. No one expects perfection.” My son was getting ready to say, “No again” when I cut him off. “If you don’t go, I was pull you up there kicking and screaming if I have to, and that will be embarrassing not only for you, but for me. No one is going to forget that.” He gave me a ‘you wouldn’t’ and then a ‘how could you!’ face, then got up and went with his classmates calmly to the stage. I hated that it had resorted to this, but was glad he was motivated to participate. As his class sang, we could see that our son was enjoying it, he even gave us a ‘thumbs up’ from the stage at one point. Afterwards, he came back to us and in a ‘you-were-right-but-I-hate-admitting-it’ tone shared, “I was so nervous, but I think I did pretty good.” My husband and I smiled, “You did great.” I shared, “I loved that one song, can we sing it now?” My son looked at me and said, “Mom, please!” I didn’t, of course, (though I was tempted to) but it was fun to see the moment come full circle.
How do you prompt your child to action without embarrassing them?